Animal Aid demands action on game bird cruelty

Posted on the 23rd August 2017

An investigation into a Warwickshire game farm, launched by national campaign group, Animal Aid, has uncovered a disturbing number of welfare concerns.

Undercover filming carried out at Heart of England Farms Ltd during June and July of this year, revealed partridges and pheasants confined in battery-style cages, and that many of the birds were stressed and in extremely poor condition. Several of the welfare issues resulted from practices that were clear breaches of the government’s Code of Practice for rearing game birds.


Animal Aid has written to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) demanding immediate action. Amongst our concerns are:

  • Dead partridges left for days in the egg collection trays
  • Partridges and pheasants who were emaciated and feather-pecked – some had damaged or deformed beaks
  • Pheasants fitted with what we believed were illegal ‘spectacle-type’ bits on their beaks
  • Partridges in totally barren cages
  • Ducks in an overgrown pen who appeared to have no bathing water

In addition, Animal Aid’s investigator filmed a farm vehicle dumping what appeared to be bags of waste composed of litter from a rearing shed, into a field. Amongst the litter were the corpses of young birds. Cows were filmed grazing on top of the pile.

Says Animal Aid Campaign Manager, Fiona Pereira:

What we filmed at the farm were practices that breach the industry’s Code, but it’s important to realise that, unbelievably, it is legal to incarcerate semi-wild birds for months in metal cages that cause incredible stress and suffering.

There are tens of thousands of these breeding birds in industrial farms all across the country, being used to produce eggs that will become the next generation of live targets for shooters. It is abominable that such suffering – for so-called sport – is permitted. We want to see an end to the killing of animals for sport, but in the immediate future, we want an end to these battery-style cages used to confine the breeding birds.


Notes from the Investigation:

1) Breaches of the Code of Practice

  • The male Reeves’s pheasants were fitted with what appeared to be outlawed beak spectacles that pierce the nasal septum. The Code of Practice is clear that this is illegal, stating: ‘Any type designed to pierce the nasal septum is illegal in birds.’
  • The female pheasants were fitted with beak shrouds. The Code of Practice states ‘Anti-aggression masks or shrouds should not generally be used as a form of bird management.’
  • The laying units for partridges filmed at Heart of England Farms Ltd were barren and without enrichment. The Code of Practice stipulates:‘Barren raised cages for breeding pheasants and small barren cages for breeding partridges should not be used. All laying systems used for the housing of birds should be designed and managed to ensure the welfare of the birds. Any system should be appropriately enriched.’

2) Welfare concerns:

  • Many of the birds filmed were in poor condition, exhibiting feather loss.
  • Some birds had deformed or damaged beaks.
  • The partridges find their confinement so stressful that they are often fitted with beak clips to prevent them attacking their cage mate. Even so, our investigator found dead birds in the egg collection trays who had presumably been killed by their cage mate or had died in their effort to escape the cages.

Animal Aid’s investigator also discovered cows grazing on a pile of waste, which included dead bird carcasses. On a later date, a vehicle from the game farm was filmed dumping more waste on the pile, which was still being accessed by cows. Again, dead bird carcasses were found on the pile.

This offence is not covered specifically by the Code of Practice for the Welfare of Gamebirds Reared for Sporting Purposes, but is referenced in that document’s Annex, regarding the Animal By-Products Regulations 2005:

  • The body or part of a body of any farmed animal that has not been slaughtered for human consumption must be held by an operator, pending consignment or disposal, in such manner as to ensure that no animal or bird will have access to it.’
  • ‘It is an offence to feed to any ruminant animal, pig or bird any other animal by-product (unless it has been processed in accordance with the Community Regulation).’

3) What was filmed:

  • Animal Aid filmed at Heart of England five times during June and July. Footage was shot of partridges, who are kept in pairs of one male and one female in a metal box that has a mesh wire floor and mesh wire roof.
  • The birds repeatedly jumped up at the mesh roof (a motion called Jump Escape) in their frustration at being caged and to try to fly free. This results in damage to their heads. They carried out the same behaviour even when filmed from an extreme distance by our investigator.
  • The pheasants at the farm were mostly confined in raised wooden boxes with a mesh floor and roof. The common ring-necked variety were kept in groups of eight females to one male, with the females wearing beak shrouds. Some were also wearing dressings on their backs because of damage to the skin.

4) Reporting our findings:

Animal Aid reported its concerns to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) and to Lord Gardiner of Kimble, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs on 25 July (we are waiting for a response).

In 2015, after Animal Aid made a complaint about barren cages in use at another game farm, we received a letter from APHA which clearly stated that ‘Game farms in England and Wales do not have a routine inspection programme’ and that ‘Any inspections carried out by APHA are in response to allegations of poor welfare …’. Further, in a letter to Roger Godsiff on 27 February 2016, Minister George Eustice, stated ‘I am not convinced it is necessary for APHA inspectors to regularly visit game farms up and down the country to check compliance with the code. The inspections that have taken place in response to welfare concerns have shown that for the most part game farms are compliant with the code. Where there has been conflict, there has been a justifiable reason and action is being taken to rectify the situation.

On 30 June 2015, Mr Eustice stated in response to a Parliamentary Question that four game farms had been inspected as a result of welfare concerns since June 2014.

Notes to Editors

  • The footage was taken at Heart of England Farms Ltd (Henley Road, Claverdon, Warwickshire CV35 8PS)
  • Read the Code of Practice for the Welfare of Gamebirds Reared for Sporting Purposes
  • Animal Aid’s investigators also visited a game farm in Wales in June to monitor the temperature inside a pheasant cage with a digital thermometer over a period of 21 hours. The thermometer recorded a maximum temperature of 41.2ºC, but the birds had endured temperatures of over 30ºC for more than six hours when the thermometer was removed from the cage.
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